UPDATED Roundup: Bill Targeting Franchot Moves Forward, House Eyes Statute on Child Sex Crimes

Photo by Danielle E. Gaines
The Maryland State House. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Senate moved forward Friday on House Bill 1052, which would remove regulatory powers over alcohol and tobacco from the comptroller’s office.

Widely viewed as political retribution for Democratic Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot’s advocacy on behalf of small brewers, and his accusations that legislative leaders operate in smoky backrooms, the bill transfers those regulatory powers to a new five-member Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, to be appointed by the governor.

As part of the move, the Field Enforcement Division within the comptroller’s office would shift from oversight by Franchot to oversight by the commission.

Supporters of the bill say it would remove an elected official from oversight of an industry from which he receives campaign donations; Maryland is one of only three states that have an elected official overseeing the alcoholic beverage industry in the same way, said Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the bill.

But Sen. Robert Cassilly (R-Harford) questioned whether other states have moved to the system Maryland is considering and said the appointment of commission members by the governor – subject to confirmation by the Senate – and a commission executive director who serves at the pleasure of the governor, added more politics to the mix, not less.

Kramer pointed out that the bill represents two dozen recommendations from a summer task force, including public education efforts about the health effects of tobacco and alcohol, which are not a focus of the comptroller’s office now.

Franchot’s office has said shifting the Field Enforcement Division could cost as much as $50 million; the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services estimated a $4 million price tag for the move.

During the Senate debate, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) pointed out that, at some point in the future, the state will need a department available to regulate marijuana, intimating that the commission could potentially be used for that as well.

A final vote on the measure is expected Monday.

Statute of Limitations

Following an emotional debate on Saturday, the House of Delegates gave initial approval to a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for sex abuse against minors and create a two-year window to file suit for victims where a previous statute of limitations has expired. House Bill 687 is sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), a former prosecutor and survivor of abuse who has long advocated for greater judicial recourse for juvenile victims of abuse.

When it reached the floor, Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery), an attorney, introduced an amendment that would have removed the retroactive 2-year clause from the bill. She said the provision was contrary to current law, in part, because of a provision in a 2017 bill from Wilson that extended the age by which an adult must make a child sex abuse claim from 25 up to 38. Wilson forcefully argued that he was unaware of the amended language in his previous bill and urged colleagues to vote against Dumais’ amendment.

Dumais said the two-year window would “set our civil justice system on its head.”

Wilson and others said House members should do all they could to open up the justice system for victims, and let courts iron out issues. The majority leader’s amendment failed 5-129. The bill is up for a final vote on Monday.

School construction

The House gave initial approval Saturday afternoon to a bill that would provide more than $2.2 billion in funding for school construction projects.

The bill also expands state school construction programs to cover counties’ planning costs, establishes a public-private partnership plan for Prince George’s County schools, adds additional annual funding for construction projects and prioritizes funding for schools that have high concentrations of children in poverty, are dilapidated or have high numbers of relocatable classrooms.

House Bill 727 was voted out of committee on Friday and will be up for a final vote on Monday.

Tanning beds

The House and Senate have passed identical bills that would prevent Marylanders under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds.

The House voted 100-37 to pass the bill on Thursday; the Senate voted 28-19 on Friday.

“We know that the earlier a person starts tanning, the greater the risk of being diagnosed with melanoma and other skin cancers later in life,” said Jocelyn Collins, Maryland’s government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “Research has proven that using an indoor tanning device before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by 59 percent. And the risk is even higher when tanning bed use begins before the age of 25.”

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer. In 2019, the American Cancer Society projects that 1,750 Marylanders will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, and 110 are projected to die from the disease.

Water bills

The House and Senate passed identical legislation that would make permanent a current law that prohibits foreclosure tax sales for homes with delinquent water bills in the city of Baltimore.

Senate Bill 96 and House Bill 161 would permanently ban the tax lien foreclosures of all residential properties and religious properties exempt from taxation. The bill would also stop delinquent water bills from contributing to a property’s eligibility for tax sale when combined with other past-due bills.

Fight for Fifteen

A $15-an-hour minimum wage bill is headed to conference committee after the House of Delegates refused to concur with Senate amendments. The House of Delegates appointed Economic Matters Chair Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), Majority Leader Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) and Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) to the committee.

The Senate is expected to appoint conference committee members on Monday.

Title X

The House of Delegates passed a bill Saturday that would end Maryland’s participation in Title X and reject federal family planning dollars, following a proposed new rule from the Trump administration that would prohibit family planning clinics funded by the program from making abortion referrals.

The rule removes a requirement that family planning methods be “medically approved,” leaving patients without a guarantee that health care providers will deliver medically accurate information and care, advocates say.

House Bill 1272 from House Health and Government Operations Chair Shane M. Pendergrass (D-Howard) would require the state to fund Maryland’s Family Planning Program at the same level as last year.

“We want to make sure Marylanders who get family planning services under Title X have access to the very same methods as people with private insurance. It’s that plain and simple,” Pendergrass said at a bill hearing earlier this month. “But because of the federal rules, they will no longer have that access under Title X. So it’s time to walk away from the federal Title X dollars.”

The House vote on the bill was 97-38; a similar measure is pending a hearing in the Senate.

Orchestrating more symphony money

By a vote of 106-29, the House of Delegates approved House Bill 1404 from Appropriations Chair Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City). The measure would give $1.6 million in each of the next two fiscal years to help support the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, while a workgroup studies long-term solutions for the orchestra’s programming, with a report due to the General Assembly budget committees by Oct. 1.

Laura and Reid

The Senate voted 46-1 on a bill known as Laura and Reid’s Law, which would create an enhanced 10-year prison penalty for a person who commits a crime of violence against another person when the assailant knows that the victim is pregnant.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) is named for Laura Wallen, a Howard County school teacher who was four months pregnant when she was killed in September 2017. She planned to name her son Reid; Wallen’s then-boyfriend was charged in the killing but was found dead in his Montgomery County jail cell on the day of trial.

Tobacco 21

The Senate moved forward on Senate Bill 895 to restrict the purchase of tobacco products until a person is 21 years old.

The Senate version of the bill allows active duty members of the military who are at least 18 years old to purchase tobacco products, an amendment from Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) that was accepted on a voice vote after debate.

The cross-filed House Bill 1169 received initial approval from the House on Saturday, though delegates struck down an amendment that would have created the exception for active-duty military.

Pesticides

The House voted 90-44 in favor of HB 275, which would ban all uses of chlorpyrifos – a toxic, nerve agent pesticide proven to cause brain damage in children and contaminate waterways and wildlife. If the bill, sponsored by Del. Dana M. Stein (D-Baltimore County), becomes law, Maryland would be the second state in the country, after Hawaii, to fully ban chlorpyrifos.

In 2015, after a two-decade study over two decades, scientists at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that chlorpyrifos cannot be considered safe at any detectable level and recommended that the pesticide be banned. The Trump administration reversed that decision, and the issue remains tied up in the federal court system.

“We are thrilled the House of Delegates approved this bill to protect Maryland’s children,” said Ruth Berlin, executive director of the Maryland Pesticide Education Network and leader of the Smart on Pesticides Coalition. “There are no safe uses or levels of exposure to this toxic chemical. We urge the Senate and Governor Hogan to follow the House’s lead and ban chlorpyrifos in our state for good.”

Chlorpyrifos is the fourth most common pesticide used in the U.S. food chain. It has been linked to neurodevelopmental issues, autism and cancer in children, as well as breast cancer in pre-menopausal women. It is also a major concern for the health of aquatic life and the Chesapeake Bay and harms pollinators.

The bill was amended to delay the implementation of the chlorpyrifos ban through December 2020 and allow the Department of Agriculture to issue emergency waivers through December 2022. The Senate version, SB 270, sponsored by Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D-Baltimore County), has been heard in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, but has yet to have a vote.

Crossover craze

Lawmakers will meet in multiple sessions on Monday to crank out final votes on dozens, if not hundreds of measures. Lawmakers introduced 2,490 bills this session. More than 620 bills have already been passed by one chamber or the other. Monday is the traditional deadline by which bills must be passed by their original chamber to guarantee a hearing in the other.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

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